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Marcus Sheridan, an owner of River Pools, overhauled the company's marketing to focus on generating sales through informational blog posts and videos. Credit: Jay Paul for The New York Times

It is an indelible image of the financial crisis: a bird’s-eye view of the backyards of foreclosed houses, their in-ground pools festering with algae and mosquitoes. In Northern Virginia, Marcus Sheridan was in the financial storm.

By early 2009, his company, River Pools and Spas, a 20-employee installer of in-ground fiberglass pools in Virginia and Maryland, had a decline in orders from an average of six a month to barely two. That winter, four customers who had planned to install pools costing more than $50,000 each demanded their deposits back. For three consecutive weeks, the company overdrew its bank account.

Around this time, Mr. Sheridan began to overhaul his marketing. The company had been spending about $250,000 a year on radio, television and pay-per-click advertising. It would now cut the budget to about a tenth of that and focus on generating sales through informational blog posts and videos, what has become known as content marketing. But Mr. Sheridan took an unconventional approach to his content.

As a result, River Pools has recovered to exceed its peak pre-2007 revenue, and Mr. Sheridan, a 35-year-old father of four, has become something of a Web marketing guru. While he still owns a 33 percent interest in the pool company, his partners manage it day to day while he concentrates on his new venture, TheSalesLion.com. He recently spoke about his marketing approach in a conversation that has been edited and condensed.

Q. Take us back. How did you save your company?

A. I just started thinking more about the way I use the Internet. Most of the time when I type in a search, I’m looking for an answer to a specific question. The problem in my industry, and a lot of industries, is you don’t get a lot of great search results because most businesses don’t want to give answers; they want to talk about their company. So I realized that if I was willing to answer all these questions that people have about fiberglass pools, we might have a chance to pull this out.

Q. What was the first question you answered?

A. The question I was always asked within the first two minutes of talking to customers was, How much does a fiberglass pool cost? Pool installers are like mattress or car dealers — we hate talking about how much a pool costs until we have you in person because there are so many options and accessories we want to sell you. As a result, pool companies never mention price on their Web sites. But I said, I don’t care what the question is, we’re going to answer it.

Q. Did you actually tell people the price of a pool?

A. No — because I couldn’t. But see, that’s the magic behind this. Google’s search engine doesn’t really care if we answer the question. It’s just looking for companies that are willing to address the question. So I said in that article, there are a ton of options, so it depends, the price can range anywhere from $20,000 to $200,000 and a lot of our customers end up between $40,000 and $80,000. And that was enough. Within about 24 hours of writing that article, it was No. 1 for every fiberglass-pool, cost-related phrase you could possibly type in. And because I have analytics, so far to this day, I’ve been able to track a minimum of $1.7 million in sales to that one article.

Q. What was the next question?

A. People used to ask me all the time, “Marcus, I’ve been hearing that fiberglass pools have all sorts of problems and issues. So what are the problems and issues?” Of course, they’d been talking to a concrete pool guy, but it doesn’t matter where they got it, now they have the question. So we wrote an article about the problems with fiberglass pools and specifically came right out and said: Here are the issues. Here are the benefits. You decide. Now, when you go in and type anything about fiberglass issues and problems, you’re going to see the River Pools Web site and you’re going to think, “Oh my gosh, these guys are so honest.”

Q. Anything else?

A. In most industries, there comes a time in the sale process where the customer turns to you and says, “O.K., I like you, but who are some of the other good companies that do this?” Half the time it’s a test, because people know who our competitors are because they can find them in .5 seconds online. Most contractors avoid the question. They say, “Oh, we don’t really have competition.” But because I was asked that question so often, I decided to answer it. I wrote a blog post about the best swimming pool builders in Richmond, Va., one of our main service areas.

Q. Where were you on the list?

A. I wasn’t on it.

Q. You weren’t?

A. No, because the moment I put my name up there I would lose all my credibility. But here’s the thing. Take the first company on the list, Pla-Mor Pools, a top competitor of ours. If you type in, “Pla-Mor Pools reviews Richmond, Va.,” which of course people do all the time when they’re vetting a company, what comes up? Me! You vet all my competitors, now I’m showing up for all their key words. If you really want to understand the power of inbound marketing, it comes down to this idea: I want to have the conversation at my house.

Q. Once you wrote a blog post, how much time did you spend promoting it on Twitter and Facebook?

A. I didn’t. Dude, that one article on price has never been tweeted. It’s never been Facebooked. I’m not saying social media doesn’t help, but it’s nowhere near what people think. The only metric that really matters is total pages viewed. Here’s a statistic for you: If somebody reads 30 pages of my River Pools Web site, and we go on a sales appointment, they buy 80 percent of the time. The industry average for sales appointments is 10 percent. So, our whole marketing campaign revolves around getting people to stick around and read our stuff, because the longer they stay on our site, the greater the chance they’re going to fall in love with our company.

Q. What do you say to business owners who say they don’t know what to blog about?

A. That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard, and I hear it a lot. What they should be doing is just listening to every single question they get and answering it. In my consulting business the first thing we do is brainstorm what questions the company gets on a regular basis. I’ve never had a company come up with less than 100 questions in 30 minutes.

Q. How do you suggest companies find time to do all of this blogging?

A. Most of the time, they can take the employees they already have talking to customers and turn them into content producers. If you have 25 salespeople, and each one of them writes one post a month, your search is going to be through the roof because that’s a new piece of content every day.

Q. How have your competitors responded to all of this?

A. They still don’t really get it. They’re nice about it. I’ll have one of my best-pool-builder lists come out, and I’ll run into them. And they’ll say, “Hey, man, thanks for including me in that list. I’m not sure why you did it, but thanks.”

 
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Is Your Website Doing This?

What’s your website doing while you’re not looking?

This week on Think Tank Tuesday, I reveal the steps you should be taking to increase conversion and traffic on your landing pages, and it’s more than just a "Thank You" page. After watching this episode of Think Tank Tuesday, your website will be successful in no time!

Website: http://www.ppadv.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PotratzAdvertising

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Potratz

Instagram: @Potratz

Snapchat: PotratzAgency

 

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There's a disturbing trend I'm seeing in the automotive industry when I visit websites. Perhaps it's been like this for a while and I simply took my eye off the chat ball. When I see chat windows that instantly prompt for the customer's contact information, it makes me cry a little inside.

This isn't what chat is supposed to be about. I'd love to have that debate with anyone. Chat is an alternative means of instant information. In other words, it's more akin to phone calls than to anything else. If you believe in having a barrier of entry for your customers to chat, then you should have your receptionist answer the phone with, "Thank you for calling XYZ Motors. Can I have your name, phone number, and email address, please? No? Okay, thank you for calling."

Click.

I totally understand how this came about. Chat companies were pressured to generate leads and that became the only goal. If you, as a car dealer, believe this, then I would contend that you've either been misled or you've lost touch with what chat should really do. There are two parts: lead generation AND customer service. Some people call the dealership to find out when the parts department closes. You don't need their contact information in order to tell them a time over the phone just as you should not require their contact information to give them the time over chat.

Whether you believe it or not, here's a fact that common sense should tell you: you're making some of your website visitors unhappy by creating a barrier to inquiry. Some people (more than we all want to admit) will never give their contact information before coming in. Unless your leads have a 100% appointment ratio, a 100% show ratio, and your lead volume is at 90% of your total traffic to the dealership itself, this fact should be clear. Despite what the up-log says, your customers are not driving by randomly. They went online. They've probably been to your website.

With that understanding, why would a dealership want to put a bad taste in their customers' mouths before they even decide to come by the dealership?

Serve your customers the information they want online without prejudice. Don't force them to fill out a lead form first. A skilled operator should be trained to work with people during chat, determine if they're a valid prospect, and gather the information the dealership wants DURING the chat process, not before. Will volume decrease? Maybe. Maybe not. I am no expert but I would imagine that the people who come into chat that wouldn't have entered because of the lead information wall will be more likely to leave their information as their questions are being answered.

You don't just want leads. You want good leads. You want great leads. Chat should be the best of both worlds, combining the dialogue potential of the phone with the information gathering of a lead form. If you make them fill out the form ahead of time, you're pushing away many who want to have a dialogue first. This is a big mistake.

Some would say, "If they're serious, they'll fill out the form, first." BS. There are plenty of serious buyers who want information but who have had bad experiences when they fill out lead forms. There's a reason lead form submissions are on the decline. People have been burnt in the past. Get them into a conversation first, then pursue the lead when appropriate. That's the right way to handle it.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, "Mr. Chat Provider - tear down this wall."

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There are muffins, and there are great muffins. The kind we get our of a plastic package from a vending machine or at a continental breakfast at a hotel usually meets the hunger requirements, but it's usually not exceptionally enjoyable. Compare that to a muffin from your favorite bakery and the experience can be like night and day.

Why is that? They have the same basic ingredients. There's the freshness component, but even packaged muffins are usually not that old because the shelf-life is so short on them. It really comes down to the way that they're prepared and baked. It comes down quality.

The difference between muffins is like the difference between customer database marketing solutions. When I speak to dealers across the nation, there is a good number of you who have some sort of customer database marketing in place. Perhaps it's an automated follow-up system through your CRM. Maybe you have a BDC procedure that tries to cultivate the relationship over time. These are fine and they're (usually) better than nothing, but they're usually result in very little tangible value as far is increasing sales and service business.

They're packaged muffins.

A true customer database marketing strategy requires quality, care, and strategy. It requires taking your database and improving on it based upon referencing other data that is available. It's about appending the data to make it more accurate and therefore more effective.

It also requires proper messaging. One of the biggest mistakes that I see dealers and even other vendors make is that they separate out their databases to target service customers and sales customers. The reality is that you have customers. Your service customers should be buying cars from you. Your sales customers should be getting their cars serviced through you. The strategies that can take the two types of customers and turn them into a strong set of "whole" customers is something that simply cannot be done through standard automated systems.

The packaged muffins won't get the job done.

A great muffin means putting together the right recipe (strategy) to nurture them properly. It's about staying in front of them with the right messages and being relevant to their needs before, during, and after they're fulfilled.

As you think about all of this, ask yourself if you're taking full advantage of your customer database in a way that is translating into dramatic increases in business and customer loyalty. Today, the loyalty factor has been abandoned by many simply because customers in the digital age seem to be less willing to do business with the same companies over and over again. They've broadened their horizons thanks to the internet. You can take advantage of this by nurturing them appropriately and constantly. The most successful dealers in the coming years will not be the ones that are relying on getting new business. The most successful dealers will have a strong balance between acquiring new customers and keeping their current ones.

Look at your strategy and decide whether it's really going after your current and past customers with the fervor it deserves. If not, it's time to explore a new strategy.

It's time to bake a great muffin.

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People in the world of marketing and businesses trying to use social media for promotions almost always face a paradox. It’s like a Chinese finger trap – the harder you pull, the more trapped you can become. That’s the world of social media and it’s the biggest reason for failure.

     

In social media, the more you try to talk about your business, the less your message makes it out to anyone who might actually care. On Facebook and Google+, the algorithms make it to where self-promotion can only last for so long without hurting the quality of the page altogether. On other social sites like Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, self-serving posts often make followers stop following. If you can’t talk about your business, what’s the point of putting your business on social media?

   

The truth is this: you can talk about your business… a little. To do that, you must earn the right. To earn the right, you have to talk about the things that are both relevant to your business while still holding the interest of your customers. In other words, you have to talk about them and/or the communities in which they exist online and off.

    

Those who do it right often take their social media marketing to the next level whether they mean to or not. You see, talking about others is one of the easiest ways to get them to talk about you. When someone else is talking about your business on social media in a positive way, it holds ten times more weight than anything you can say about yourself.

   

There are two important points of discussion, both of which are too long for this particular post, so we’ll touch the surface now and go more in depth in the future.

 

Earning the Right to Promote

This has been called many things by many people, but we’re all talking about the same basic premise. If you over-promote your business, products, or services, you’ll turn people off. They won’t see your posts because they block you, unfollow you, or report your posts as spam. By doing so, they aren’t just keeping themselves from seeing your posts on Facebook and Google+. They’re also preventing others from seeing you posts. When this happens too much, your page becomes toast. It’s burnt. It reaches nobody. It’s worthless.

  

Some take this premise too far and apply the extreme opposite strategy. They don’t talk about business at all. These are the people who are pushing a branding-only strategy. The idea is this: if you entertain and inform people, you can talk about anything that you or they consider “engaging”. This puts your logo and business name in front of more people. They like your business because you post great cat pictures. With this strategy, the goal is to be on of the “cool kids” on social media.

  

This strategy is absolutely ludicrous, though technically it’s not as bad as over-promoting your business, i.e. spamming.

   

I recently heard David Johnson talk about a post he put on Persuasive Concepts about it and his description was spot on. I’m not going to go into full detail here as it was a long explanation, but the basic idea is that if you bring value to your fans and followers by focusing on topics that interest them and that are important to your topic, you earn the credits necessary to cash in on promotional posts. For example, a car dealer might post car maintenance tips, customer testimonials, and pictures of cool cars most of the time while posting business-relevant posts occasionally that talk about “the big sale” or something more creative.   

This is earning the right. More on that in a future post.

 

Talking About Others

There’s an important lesson that should be understood before I go into any details about this. Intention is easy to sniff out. Sincerity is key. If you are talking to and about people, other businesses, charities, or anything else with the intention of getting them to talk about you, people will know.

   

If, on the other hand, you go in with the right frame of mind and position of heart knowing that most of the people and organizations you talk about on social media won’t reciprocate but you want to do it anyway because it’s interesting and valuable to your fans and followers, you have a chance of succeeding. It’s that simple.

   

Take a sincere interest in the community and the lives of those within it through your social media. You live close to people. You work close to people. You’re a part of the community. Highlight the best parts of the community and the people in it. Give credit to those who do the right things. Use your business social media page to bring good things to light and to help others succeed. Do all of these things sincerely and good things will happen for your business through social media.

This, too, is a topic that needs more flesh, just not right now.

 

Customers and Community

Take action. Be a part of it all. Participate.

If you focus on others, you’ll be able to get out of the Chinese finger trap of social media. If you just keep pushing (or pulling) harder, you’re only going to make things worse. Sincerity is the key. It can’t be said enough.

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Don't Fear Your Customers on Social Media - Embrace Them!

I've shared this story before but it's worth mentioned again. I was speaking to a client about their social media presence. Well, it was actually their lack of a social media presence. They didn't have a Facebook page, they didn't realize that they had a Twitter account that had been set to Tweet AutoBlog via RSS, and they through that Google+ was a premium service that Google was selling. Don't laugh. This was one of the darkest days of my marketing career.

 

When I asked why they didn't have a Facebook page at the very least, he said that "they don’t want people to have the ability to talk badly about them on Facebook." After some explaining about how Facebook and social media in general worked, I got down to what was the real root of the problem. He said that he totally understood that they could post on their own Facebook profile without his permission or even knowledge, but if he had a Facebook page and he posted there then he would have to respond.

Exactly. You have to respond. You want to respond. Every customer challenge is an opportunity to shine.

 

Control the Feedback


Disney. Apple. Amazon. Johnson & Johnson. These are brands that regularly topped the "most loved" companies lists. They do what they can to try to make everyone happy. Despite being at the top of the list, they have haters. Many haters. Thousands, perhaps millions of people have a negative opinion of these loved brands.

Let's look at it locally. There's a Peruvian restaurant close to the office that we go to whenever we want to have a casual lunch. The food is amazing - the Lomo Saltado is the best way to fill up on $10. I took a friend there who loved Peruvian food and he hated it. He even said so on Yelp (granted, the service was uncannily awful that day, but the food didn't impress him either). You simply can't appeal to everyone.

Those who are going to complain about your business will find a way to complain no matter how hard you try to avoid it. The reality in today's uber-connected world is that you can't avoid it and you shouldn't even try. In fact, you should embrace it by allowing as many venues such as Facebook to be the place where you want to hear their complaints.

When people post negative reviews to many of the review sites or tell the story of their experiences on their social media profiles, you often have no recourse. Many of the review sites allow you to reply and you definitely should, but it still goes onto a permanent record. The complaint is logged and you can't take it down. In cases like those, it's extremely important to reply whenever possible with empathy, professionalism, a sincere desire to improve through their feedback, and (whenever applicable) a willingness to make things right for them. It's a best practice to reply to every review, good or bad, but that's another blog post.

Now, imagine if you used your social media, Facebook in particular, as a venue through which people could voice their opinions about your business. Some would say that it would get more exposure that way, particularly if they have a lot of friends, but there's a couple of reasons you'd want it here rather than on review sites. First, you definitely can and should reply to those comments. Using Facebook as a two-way communication tool allows you to shine through the dark moments and highlight the brighter ones.

The second reason is control. When they post a complaint to your Facebook page, you have the ability to control this portion of the conversation. If your reply is thoughtful and satisfactory to the user, awesome! If it starts to turn into an argument or the user becomes offensive, you have the ability to hide it. I do not recommend hiding complaints as a general practice. Take what you can from the feedback and improve your business. Stand behind your product and company and accept criticism with the professionalism and a desire to improve as I mentioned above. Hiding posts is a last resort and should only be used when the complaint turns offensive.

Thankfully, this post does not apply to many. Over the last couple of years there has been a wonderful shift towards the desire to be more open to feedback. It's a necessity with today's quick and easy methods of communication that are available to consumers. If you're still missing the point and choose to do what the image for this blog post implies, I'm not sure what else to say that can help.

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(I just had this video from AutoUSA sent to me from Ralph Paglia)


Greg Coleman, Director of Business Development and E-Commerce at Lexus of Lexington and Toyota on Nicholasville, shares tips for formulating effective pricing strategies for vehicles.

Comment by Ralph Paglia 5 hours ago
Greg Coleman's description of how his dealership has been proactive on pricing transparency as a consistent strategy around building value on what the dealership provides car buyers is strong... Great message delivered by somebody who has done it and seen the results.

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Why Didn't Customers Buy From You?


In today's world of the Internet, smart phones, and apps for everything, communication is supposed to be easier and more efficient than ever before. But when it comes to dealers communicating with potential customers, plenty of opportunities are still slipping through the cracks. That's one of the major takeaways from our latest exclusive quarterly survey of customers who submitted leads on CarsDirect.com.

Take a look at the following survey excerpts from customers who did not end up purchasing a vehicle after submitting a lead:





Looking at the first chart a full 41% of consumers said they either weren't contacted by a dealer or were not sure if they were contacted. In today's world, there's almost always a way to reach a potential customer, but almost half of leads are passing by unconverted due to something as simple as making initial contact with the customer.

To avoid missing these opportunities, focus on what customers see as making contact, and on your current process at your store. While your process might consist of sending an e-mail shortly after receiving a lead, it could be that the customer is expecting a more personal phone call. Experiment with different ways of making initial contact with customers to see which one garners the best response. As illustrated above, there are plenty of opportunities other stores are missing that you can seize on.

Moving onto the second chart, again we see that by far the top reason or not purchasing: no contact. If there's no communication with customers, it's impossible to make sales. That's why it's imperative to examine and refine your processes so your sales team knows they did everything they could to contact a customer and get them in the door.

The second most-cited reason customers gave for not purchasing was that they are still looking for a vehicle. These are the cases when contact is made with a customer but they drop off the radar. In these cases, it's important to examine why your team hasn't closed the customer. Are they still working the customer? There's usually plenty of opportunity to win a customer back if they're undecided.

Finally, the third most common reason that customers gave for not purchasing was price. Here, make sure that you're giving customers a price online so that there is no surprise about price on first contact. Also, make sure you're priced competitively in your area. It sounds simple, but your prices could be out of line with the rest of your local market if you're not keeping tabs on pricing trends in the surrounding area.

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Auto Dealers Build Trust by Personalizing Follow-Up Emails
http://www.drivingsales.com
http://www.dealersynergy.com
REPOST from DrivingSales.com Writen By Justin Braun. Auto dealers know the follow-up process is one of the most critical elements of lead conversion. This is especially true for leads generated through automotive live chat. To be successful in this business and build trust with consumers, dealers must follow-up with leads quickly and be precise and specific in their communication. For leads generated from automotive live chat, the chat transcript holds vital information about the prospect’s desires and how far along he or she is in the conversion funnel.

But, how can auto dealers be specific, personal and build trust in a timely manner?

Understandably, auto dealers hate to email out a price without first talking to someone. Dealers should simply focus on continuing to build the relationship with the prospective customer that was initiated by the live chat conversation while providing information that move the customer forward in the sales process.

In this blog, we analyze a real-life situation in which a dealer failed to follow-up appropriately with a chat lead. Then, we discuss appropriate and effective ways to follow-up with chat leads (and all Internet leads) so that they convert into sales and move forward in the sales process.

Below is an example of a failed follow-up process, straight from the chatter’s mouth…er, their fingers.

“Hello. Not too sure if you can answer my question. But how long does it usually take to get the bottom line price on a car? I originally inquired on 1.26.12 and then again yesterday. I have received the same auto reply/generic email thanking me for my interest.

Its okay. I just wanted to know if the manager would take the time to reply or if I should just forget about it and move on.”

Nothing is worse than spamming your leads with robotic, impersonal auto-replies. Something we stress to our auto dealer clients is to always be personal in your follow-up responses. As you can see from the last sentence of the chat, this ready-to-buy prospective customer has lost all trust is on the verge of giving up on the dealership.

So dealers, how would you salvage this situation and prevent it from happening in the future? Here are a few tips:

Send a personal email

A personal touch is all your prospects are looking for. It doesn’t have to be long – both you and the customer live busy lives – 3 to 5 sentences addressing the situation will salvage the sales process. Using the phrase, “My online sales assistant let me know you were interested in ______,” can be very effective. Fill in the blank and take it from there. Also, don’t forget to include a call to action. Never end an email with a statement! Conclude your email with a question to prompt a response.

Follow-up with relevant and specific information

Confirm special features/options on the vehicle ( something as simple as leather seats or advanced options like Bluetooth)
Confirm availability (and interior color and condition if it is pre/owned)
Send a pic of the actual vehicle and offer to send more
Give a bullet point of what the next steps are in the buying process
Explain advantage of buying from you
Remind the prospect of what is needed for the test drive( license, and whatever else they may want)
Provide info on what services or reconditioning on the pre-owned vehicle has been done

Read what is given to you

Read the chat transcript, form lead or any other consumer insights you have. Know what the customer wants and give it to them. It’s that easy! Remember that the chat conversation has already developed a relationship between your dealership and the prospective customer. An impersonal auto-response removes the customer entirely from the sales process and ruins your rapport.

By acting as an advocate in the follow-up process, auto dealers can provide consumers with information and then ask questions to assist them in moving forward through the sales process. Keep in mind that consumers don’t buy a car every day, week, month or year. Every “inside” tip you give prospects builds upon the trust already established by the live chat conversation.

Remember, the leads received through automotive live chat are a product of a two-way conversation. A template email saying thanks for your interest just stalls customers and erodes any trust built during a live chat conversation.

Remember, the leads received through automotive live chat are a product of a two-way conversation.

In addition to these tips, ActivEngage CEO Todd Smith offers additional advice that will not only help ensure auto dealers successfully transform chat conversations into leads, but will help them stand out in the marketplace during the critical follow-up process.

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Got Bad Credit?

Got Bad Credit?

Have you ever heard this before? “Treat people the way you would want to be treated?” Otherwise known as the Golden Rule. Maybe you heard this one; “All people are created equal,” which just so happens to be mentioned by Thomas Jefferson over 2 centuries ago. But these statements are still not enforced 100% of the time in our Dealerships. The problem is that in today’s society and business we continue to do the same things over and over again expecting a different result, sometimes referred to as insanity.

Check out this scenario, (true story) I ask a sales consultant why his sales this month are off, and he responds like the average sales person, “got too much bad credit.” Well I guess he was unaware that West Tennessee and Memphis has been known in the past as the “bankruptcy capital of the world.” The problem here is not the bad credit, the problem here is the sales consultants mind set about a customer with challenged credit. I decided to watch this sales consultant closer, I needed to understand the sales consultants process with challenged credit customers before I could analyze the true problem. After 5 minutes here was my conclusion:

 

  1. The meet and greet was weak, he saw that the customer had a ‘98 Clunker and immediately brought the customer in for a quick 5-Liner (quick credit application in non-sales terms)
  2. Asked the customer how much money they have for a down payment.
  3. Let the customer go with no Manager T.O. before telling the customer to leave because their pockets were empty. Wow.

 

But who is to blame here, has the store created a culture to treat all customers the same? Does the sales consultant really understand the process with challenged credit customers? Here is what we do know, the sales consultant already thought in his mind that this customer has bad credit and that he would not sell them a car. The sales person treated them is if they were not important, almost as if that people with challenged credit are not allowed at this dealership unless they fit the banks guidelines. Would this sales consultant have treated his grandmother the same way? Would this sales person have treated a customer that stepped out of 2008 BMW 7 Series with business attire the same way? My guess is probably not, I would guess that the red carpet would have been rolled out for both.

 

Would you like to know how to sell more cars to people with challenged credit? Follow these easy steps:

  1. Treat the customer as if they had just won the lottery. Roll out the Red Carpet. Make the customer feel as if they are the first customer you have ever worked with, almost as if it is your first day on the job. Thank the customer a minimum of 2 times while doing the meet and greet. Something like this, “Before we get started, ABC Motors and myself would like to thank you for coming in today. We know that you have many choices when it comes to choosing a dealership, and I appreciate you for giving us an opportunity.
  2. Perform a proper need analysis with the customer. Find out they are trying to accomplish by coming into the dealership. What is most important to them? You need to earn there trust here. Explain the process and the proper steps that need to be taken before submitting there information to a lender.
  3. Select a Vehicle that fits within their guidelines.
  4. Provide them a world-class presentation and demonstration.

 

I will not go through all the steps here, but what I can tell you is that if you perform these first 5 steps on a challenged credit customer the way you would on a customer with an 800+ beacon, the results will be immeasurable. Here is why, regardless if you sell this customer or not, they will tell more people about there experience with you than a customer with excellent credit because typically an excellent credit customer gets the red carpet rolled out 99% of the time. The same with challenged credit customers, they typically get treated poorly the same way at every dealership. Statistics show that when a customer purchases a vehicle someone else in the household or family tree is looking to purchase a car within the next 90-120 days. Well I say the same statement would be made for people that visit a dealership and do not purchase, they know someone in the family, friend, or co-worker that is looking within the next 3 months.

 

            For example, a customer recently visited our website and submitted an online credit application. Immediately we emailed the customer and then followed up with a phone call. We first thanked the customer for the opportunity, performed a need analysis, explained our dealerships value package, and sold the appointment. Down payment and any other financial questions are not to be mentioned over the phone to our customers. This customer received a confirmation number and came in to meet with me directly. I thanked the customer and performed the steps listed above and assigned the proper “Product Specialists” to go over the features of this vehicle. In short, we were unable to obtain financing for this customer, but she was so enthused about the visit that she referred 2 people to us within 48 hours because of the great experience she received. We sold one of them and the other is still a working prospect. She also just so happens to be employed at the local Y.M.C.A. so as you can imagine she interacts with hundreds upon hundreds of people everyday. She continues to send us business and we continue to work on getting her a vehicle. All this because the Red Carpet was rolled out and we treated her differently than our competition.

           

Do you have bad credit? Want to sell more customers with challenged credit? Start with the most basic thing, treat the customers the way you would want to be treated and the rest will take care of itself. All customers are created equal.

 

Durran Cage

Internet Sales Director

Alan Vines Automotive

 

 

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Top of Mind Awareness, or “TOMA,” as referred to by marketers, is that product or service which a consumer thinks of first when considering a purchase. For dealers andmanufacturers alike, TOMA is on the top of their minds relative to their business and theircustomers.

It is no secret that over the last decade, both domestic and import manufacturers and dealers have suffered a loss in market share to mainstays like Honda, Toyota and Nissan, and are continuing to do so especially since we have been experiencing $3/gallon gasoline prices. Consumers are flocking to downsize or seek out a more economical ride when it comes to fuel costs.

We all know that these struggling manufacturers recognize that the products that they have to offer must be capable of being competitive in fuel efficiency, quality, style, and safety in order to be on the consumer’s checklist when car shopping. We also acknowledge that hey are now taking the steps necessary to correct this. But what happens to their owner base in the meantime? Or, more importantly, what happens to Your Owner Base while you are waiting for the right product mix to arrive that will motivate buyers to come back to your showrooms? More than likely, they will be lulled away from you or your manufacturer’s brand into the arms of one of these very formidable competitors.

For dealers faced with this challenge, the ultimate consequence will be continued loss of market share, customer base, and profits unless they decide to do something about it NOW!

Traditional advertising will not keep your customers loyal to you. One of the most incredible assertions dealers make to me every day is that when they are referring to their owner base, or their list of customers who have purchased vehicles or have had service performed at their dealerships, is that they assume they are “theirs.”

I am often compelled to challenge them on that assumption, since that was also the mindset of those Motor City manufacturers who churned out products each year knowing that “their customers” would be back to grace their dealer’s showrooms regardless of the products that they presented. Dealers seem to be anesthetized by the illusion that just because they sold or serviced a customer once, that their customers are then locked to them for life. My argument is that those customers are you customers for only as long as they are on your lot, in your showroom, or in your customer lounge. Beyond that, they are anybody’s customer. Toyota and Honda proved it.

On a smaller scale, but more importantly, let’s look at your business. What are you doing to retain the customers that you have previously sold or serviced? Do you even know who they are? Are you even maintaining a current data base of customers? Is it cleansed, merged, and purged regularly? Do you even know who they are? Are you even maintaining a current data base of previous customers sorted by sales or service, new or used? Are you tracking your customer visits? Frequency of visits and the amount of revenue each spends with you per visit?

This is your book of business and you need to nourish, cultivate, and protect this book as it you were the premier stockbroker on Wall Street. Once you have done this dirty work and have really spend the time and money necessary to get this data into a manageable format, you need to develop a strategy that will enable you to maintain constant contact through a series of “touch points” with your customers. I am not referring to the warm and fuzzy stuff you do while your customer is in your service lounge or in the showroom.

I am talking about keeping your dealership’s TOMA to your customers when they are not at your dealership. In order to keep a hold on your customers you need to be in constant contact with them. Develop a multi-channel marketing strategy that incorporates what you know about your customers into what you talk to your customers about when you do contact them. The most efficient method of staying in contact with your customers is through direct marketing. Direct marketing includes several forms of marketing media, including direct mail, internet, social media, and telemarketing. Sophisticated marketers know that the traditional media cannot reach customers with the level of personalization that is necessary to stay in contact with your customers. By employing direct mail, a dealer builds his own brand, and it is not as imposing as telemarketing can sometimes be.

Research indicates that Auto Buyers are turning to the Web to communicate with dealers via e-mail and they use search engines to acquire information about a prospective make, model, or dealer. The most effective choice for a retail dealer to stay in contact with their previous customers is direct mail. According to a recent study performed by Cap Gemini, consumers polled on whether they like to receive or if they would respond to a direct mail offer from an auto dealer told marketers that over 80 percent would prefer to receive and be “more than likely” to open and respond to an offer from an auto dealer. This percentage is much higher when the offer comes from the manufacturer or dealer pertinent to or known by the consumer. How a dealer chooses to use the power of direct mail is very important, too. Most dealers turn to direct mail as the “quick fix” that is going to get them through the month.

Direct mail has been a great source for providing the needed boost when sales lagged. Dealers love it because they can track its performance on an hour-by-hour or day-by-day basis. Employing direct mail in this way has been the cornerstone of the medium in the retail auto industry for the past 30 years. It has been proven over and over again to be an effective medium in driving traffic and sales in dealerships. What dealers might not see is that the medium has evolved as the auto industry has changed. It has matured into what should now be the foundation of a sound marketing strategy. Dealers must recognize the value of their customer database and the power of this medium that will get into the home when the salesperson can’t. It is the face of your dealership, your products, and your services, and you use it can help you or it can hurt you.

Many dealers look for the next new “hook” in their direct mail. A flashy new direct mail salesperson gets a dealer on the phone or in-person and lays out the latest and greatest gimmick that can “catch” the most uninformed prospect with an offer of “incredulous believability”. Some of these ads are violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act and dealers end up paying fines to their state attorney general’s office because the flash-in-the-pan direct mail company is insolvent.

Dealers use mail to target a beacon scores or FICO score range to prospects regardless of their affinity to your dealership or your manufacturer offering credit to those who can’t otherwise get credit. Buy using direct mail in this way does not help you hold onto your most valued possession — your former customers, as it may in some cases even alienate them.

If you run a newspaper, radio or TV ad, every dealer in the state knows what you are doing. If you mail your offer, no one knows your deal besides you and your prospective customer. Unfortunately, the opposite scenario holds true, also. When you least expect it, your former customers are receiving a personal invitation to test drive the latest new gas saver from your closest competitor. An, what do they think? “Hey, why didn’t my dealer invite me to his dealership? Maybe I will give Dealer X or Brand Y a try.” If you don’t keep in touch, I promise you, your competition will.

A dealer needs to touch their customer on a preplanned, regular basis, offering reasons for them to come back to your dealership for their vehicle needs. Each time you contact them, a dealer must give the buyer the warm fuzzy, show of appreciation. This can be accomplished by developing a VIP program, Preferred Coupons, discounts, test drive incentives, and savings offers. Give them a reason to come in and see your sales staff or service team. Your customers are just like you and me; we love to be appreciated and we love to be loved. Show the love. You’ll keep that TOMA with your customer base.

- Anthony J. TaCito, CEO

Original version appeared in the January 15, 2007, issue of Dealer Magazine.

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